Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Into the Chrysalis

28.09.2007
VLT Interferometer detects disc around aged star

A team of European astronomers has used ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer and its razor-sharp eyes to discover a reservoir of dust trapped in a disc that surrounds an elderly star. The discovery provides additional clues about the shaping of planetary nebulae.

In the last phases of their life, stars such as our Sun evolve from a red giant which would engulf the orbit of Mars to a white dwarf, an object that is barely larger than the Earth. The transition is accomplished by the shedding of a huge envelope of gas and dust that sparkles in many colours, producing a most spectacular object: a planetary nebula. The celestial chrysalis becomes a cosmic butterfly.

This metamorphosis, rapid in terms of the star's lifetime, is rather complex and poorly understood. In particular, astronomers want to understand how a spherical star can produce a great variety of planetary nebulae, some with very asymmetrical shapes.

A team of scientists therefore embarked upon the study of a star which is presently on its way to becoming a cosmic butterfly. The star, V390 Velorum, is 5000 times as bright as our Sun and is located 2,600 light-years away. It is also known to have a companion that accomplishes its ballet in 500 days.

Astronomers postulate that elderly stars with companions possess a reservoir of dust that is thought to play a lead role in the final chapters of their lives. The shape and structure of these reservoirs remain, however, largely unknown.

To scrutinise the object with great precision, the astronomers linked observations taken with ESO's powerful interferometric instruments, AMBER and MIDI, at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. In particular, they combined, using AMBER, the near-infrared light of three of VLT's 8.2-m Unit Telescopes. "Only this triple combination of powerful telescopes allows us to pinpoint the position and the shape of the dusty reservoir on a milli-arcsecond scale," explains Pieter Deroo, lead-author of the paper that presents these results in the research journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

These observations clearly demonstrate that the dust present around the star cannot be distributed in a spherical shell. "This shows that whatever mechanism is shaping asymmetric planetary nebulae is already present prior to the metamorphosis taking place," says Hans Van Winckel, member of the team.

The astronomers found indeed evidence for a disc extending from 9 Astronomical Units to several hundreds of AU. "This disc is found around a star that is in a very brief phase of its life - just a blink of an eye over the star's lifespan of billions of years - but this phase is very important," says Deroo. "It is in this period that a huge morphological change occurs, leading to the creation of a planetary nebula," he adds.

The very high spatial resolution measurements allowed the astronomers to decouple the unresolved contribution of the central star from the resolved disc emission. Even the very inner structure of the disc as well as its orientation and inclination could be determined. The observations probe the physical nature of the disc and reveal that the dust in the inner rim is extremely hot and puffed up. The disc is circumbinary as it surrounds both stars.

Dust processing (coagulation, crystallisation) is found to be very efficient in this circumbinary disc, despite the rather short evolutionary timescales involved. The disc around this evolved object is very similar to those around young stellar objects, in which planets are formed.

"The combination of MIDI and AMBER on ESO's VLTI is an extremely powerful and perhaps unique tool to study the geometry of the material around stars," concludes Van Winckel.

It looks like it is the season for disc 'hunting': the detection of a dusty disc in the notable Ant Nebula was also just announced (see ESO 42/07).

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2007/pr-43-07.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Telescopes team up to study giant galaxy
12.12.2017 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

nachricht Midwife and signpost for photons
11.12.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Hot vibrating gases under the electron spotlight

12.12.2017 | Life Sciences

New silicon structure opens the gate to quantum computers

12.12.2017 | Information Technology

Using drones to estimate crop damage by wild boars

12.12.2017 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>